Six Nations 2020: Ireland can fire under Farrell after World Cup failure

By Sports Desk February 01, 2020

Andy Farrell set his stall out when he named "a hell of a team" for his first game as Ireland head coach against Scotland in the Six Nations on Saturday.

There had been much debate over who would get the nod at the start of Farrell's reign following the agony of Ireland's Rugby World Cup failure.

Just over three months after Joe Schmidt's reign ended with a 46-14 World Cup quarter-final drubbing at the hands of New Zealand, Farrell showed he is ready to do things his own way when revealing his hand for the clash at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.

The dual-code international put his cards on the table ahead of schedule, handing a start to uncapped number eight Caelan Doris with Ronan Kelleher poised to make his debut off the bench.

Conor Murray kept his place over the in-form John Cooney, with Johnny Sexton leading the side following Rory Best's retirement.

While the names in the 23 were always going to be the main topic of discussion, Farrell very much made a statement with his tone and timing of the delivery.

He has had plenty of time to consider his approach to being a head coach after serving as an assistant, having been named as Schmidt's successor in November 2018.

Asked about naming his first team earlier than expected, the straight-talking Englishman replied: "I'd rather just get it out there and get on with the week."

The 44-year-old added: "There is a little bit of paralysis through analysis. You can look too much into things the whole time.

"It doesn't bother me about putting a team out there because that's all I’m bothered about, our team. Backing ourselves. You've got to make a decision and we've got a hell of a team going into Scotland."

There has been talk around the Ireland camp about a freshness that Farrell has brought after Schmidt's glorious spell in charge came to an anticlimactic end.

Ireland headed into the World Cup on top of the rankings and it is only two years since they won the Grand Slam.

Although they were unable to live up to expectations in Japan, you only have to look at the bench for the showdown with Scotland to see the strength in depth Farrell can call upon.

Peter O'Mahony, Cooney, Robbie Henshaw, Andrew Conway and the recalled Devin Toner are among the replacements.

Farrell has spoken of his intention to take Ireland in a "new direction", and there is surely no doubt he has the experience and passion to make a seamless step up to the top job.

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    Liverpool were set to emerge at the Etihad Stadium this weekend, either with the scent of triumph in their nostrils or the delicious addition of a guard of honour from Manchester City.

    The coronavirus pandemic has placed elite sport across the globe on hold, meaning the latest episode of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp's captivating rivalry must wait.

    Nevertheless, given their former employers Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund were also due to meet in Der Klassiker, it feels like a good time to run the rule over two men whose tactical approaches and high levels of achievement have – and it does not feel too grandiose to suggest this – changed football in the 21st century, as well as one another.

    THE BUNDESLIGA YEARS

    Guardiola's arrival to take the reins of a treble-winning Bayern for 2013-14 came shortly after their rivalry with Klopp's Dortmund reached its peak.

    Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner saw Bayern down BVB 2-1 in the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley – a game played out against a backdrop of Dortmund's star playmaker Mario Gotze agreeing terms to move to Bavaria.

    In hindsight, Klopp's gegenpressing machine – winners of back-to-back Bundesliga crowns in 2010-11 and 2011-12 – were coming off the top of their curve, having finished 25 points behind a relentless Bayern domestically that season.

    The decline continued over the next two seasons. Dortmund were remarkably in relegation trouble halfway through 2014-15, before a post-Christmas recovery preceded Klopp's emotional farewell.

    Nevertheless, there was still time for telling blows to be landed. Guardiola's first competitive game in charge saw Bayern beaten 4-2 in the 2013 DFL-Supercup at a delirious Signal Iduna Park.

    Stung by that loss, Guardiola sprung a notable surprise in the first league encounter between the sides that November, where he broke Dortmund's rabid press by playing Javi Martinez as an attacking midfielder and repeatedly targeting the rangy Spain international with long balls.

    The high priest of tiki-taka (a label Guardiola famously loathes) had presided over "more long balls than in the last three years combined" from a Bayern team, according to Klopp, who bristled after Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller added to Gotze's inevitable second-half opener in a 3-0 win.

    A depleted Munich were similarly reactive when they won the DFB-Pokal final 2-0 in extra-time, even if flooding midfield numbers was a more recognisably Guardiola tactic.

    Diverting from his dizzying 4-3-3 of swirling triangles has remained something the Catalan tactician has frequently done across his meetings with Klopp, and not always with the success he enjoyed in Germany.

    HOLLOW VICTORIES AND THE PHONEY WAR

    Klopp ended his homeland head-to-head against Guardiola with three victories, making it back-to-back Supercup triumphs in 2014, having claimed a 3-0 Bundesliga result at Allianz Arena earlier that year – the authority of which was dimmed by the fact Bayern had already cantered to the title.

    Guardiola had four victories to his name, with one draw ultimately falling in Dortmund's favour as Bayern failed with all four of their penalty attempts in a 2015 DFB-Pokal semi-final shoot-out.

    However, Klopp was denied a glorious farewell as his team lost in the final to Wolfsburg and the fact Robert Lewandowski had followed Gotze to Munich by this point underlined a deck stacked against him.

    Liverpool came calling for Klopp in October 2015 and he helmed helter-skelter runs to the EFL Cup and Europa League finals. Manchester City and Sevilla prevailed respectively.

    That was Manuel Pellegrini's final honour as City boss as he made way for Guardiola, who collected a third successive Bundesliga title in 2015-16. Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund finished closer in terms of position and points (second, 10 behind) than Klopp's version had managed when in direct competition.

    With the stage presumably set for renewed hostilities between Guardiola and incoming Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho, the similarly newly installed Antonio Conte did not read the script as Chelsea romped to 2016-17 Premier League glory.

    Klopp got the better of his head-to-heads with City as a Georginio Wijnaldum goal sealed a 1-0 New Year's Eve win at Anfield before Sergio Aguero rescued a point for the hosts in the return game.

    Guardiola laid it on thick after that 1-1 draw, declaring it to be "one of the most special days of my life".

    "He is Spanish. They are a little bit more emotional than the Germans," Klopp chuckled in response.

    TON-UP BUT NOT INVINCIBLE AND THE ROAD TO KIEV

    Liverpool beat City three times in 2017-18, when most other teams could barely lay a glove on Guardiola's record-breaking side.

    But the game where City prevailed, an unusual 5-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium where Liverpool subsided meekly after Sadio Mane's red card for clattering Ederson with a high boot, arguably had the biggest influence on the campaign.

    When that game was 11 v 11, Guardiola's back three was horribly exposed. Aguero's opener arrived against the run of play, with an unusually wasteful Mohamed Salah having tormented Nicolas Otamendi.

    City never used 3-5-2 in the league again that season, reverting to a swashbuckling 4-3-3 that churned out 19 consecutive wins and made the second half of the schedule a virtual procession.

    Liverpool halted their designs on invincibility however, claiming a raucous 4-3 Anfield win in January. Klopp hailed "pressing from another planet" by his front three as Roberto Firmino, Mane and Salah were all on target in a euphoric nine-minute spell after half-time.

    Guardiola had again seen a swift avalanche of goals bring the roof in during a big match and his tweak to a 4-4-2 diamond, eyeing avenues around those Liverpool pressing lanes, backfired in that season's Champions League quarter-final.

    A 3-0 first-leg loss at Anfield, with all the goals arriving during the first half, left City with a mountain to climb and a death-or-glory approach in the return fixture – deploying a formation probably best described as 3-CHARGE!!! – eventually ran out of steam in a 2-1 loss.

    But it was Liverpool who came up short in the Kiev final on Loris Karius' nightmare outing against Real Madrid, while City sauntered to a 100-point haul as dominant Premier League champions. Sitting 25 points back in fourth, the Reds had a considerable gap to bridge.

    CHASING PERFECTION

    Despite that deficit, their efforts in going blow-for-blow with City over 90-minute periods left the impression Liverpool were the best placed of the pretenders to overthrow the champions.

    Both teams reconvened on Merseyside undefeated in October 2018 and remained that way as the free-flowing nature of recent meetings gave way to a cagey 0-0 draw.

    Reprising the theme of those early Klassiker meetings, Guardiola took his foot off the throttle as City played at a controlled tempo – an approach that would have ended the club's Anfield hoodoo but for Riyad Mahrez's ballooned late penalty.

    Fire and brimstone returned the following January, though, with a wobbling City recovering their poise and avoiding a 10-point deficit at the top. Aguero and Leroy Sane were on target either side of Firmino in a bravura display, where Aymeric Laporte took on the unfamiliar role of left-back to stifle Salah.

    That was Liverpool's only loss of the season as they finished on 97 points, agonisingly one shy of City. However, their subsequent Champions League final win over Tottenham improbably propelled them further along.

    Just as Guardiola has tempered some of his more cavalier tendencies when faced with Klopp, the challenge of an unrelenting City also forced the Liverpool boss into subtle and decisive tweaks.

    In bringing in Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, he spent big for what many see as the finest goalkeeper and centre-back on the planet. Their very presence means risk can be reduced.

    Heavy metal football has given way to a steady pulsing beat that never wavers. In the city of Merseybeat, Klopp has gone electro.

    Amid their steamrollering of the opposition this season, Liverpool have 19 wins by a solitary goal in all competitions. They are frighteningly and ruthlessly clinical. A profligate City trail in their wake, although Guardiola has used this relative freedom from pressure to thumb intriguingly through his tactical playbook in 2020.

    Both men have inspired the other to reach beyond their comfort zones and the result is the two best teams in world football. With Klopp contracted to Liverpool until 2024 and Guardiola talking up an extended stay, the thought occurs that they are each other's motivation for sticking around. There is nowhere better to measure their greatness than against one another.

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    Wayde van Niekerk says it was "an amazing inspiration" to see South Africa win the Rugby World Cup – especially as the team contained friends and family.

    The Springboks triumphed 32-12 over England in the final in Yokohama on November 2 last year to become world champions for the third time.

    Olympic 400-metre champion and world-record holder Van Niekerk says the players deserve all the accolades and sponsorship bonuses they have received for their momentous success.

    "It's been an amazing inspiration for not just myself but the entire country, and yet another spark for myself as a South African to want to achieve great things," he told Stats Perform.

    "I'm quite close friends with a few players and it's great to see how their lives have changed and the blessings and the sponsors and so on that are coming their way. It's amazing, it's well deserved and it's great."

    Van Niekerk is friends with several key South Africa players, including captain Siya Kolisi, and he is a cousin of Cheslin Kolbe.

    Kolbe battled back from injury in time to play against England and went on to score the final try of the match, capping a terrific 2019 that saw him nominated alongside eventual winner Pieter-Steph du Toit for World Rugby's Player of the Year award.

    Van Niekerk recalled: "Thinking back to Cheslin's final try: he's come through so much, moving to France, thinking that he wouldn't make the SA team, and just wanting to go and enjoy his rugby and then getting selected for the World Cup.

    "The final try was amazing but let's be honest, his entire tournament, I feel like he was one of the players of the tournament and one of the highlights of the Rugby World Cup.

    "I think it's such a blessing and such an amazing blessing to be associated with such great people, like Siya and Cheslin, it's lovely to be associated with them and draw off of them and use them as inspiration for myself, coming back from injury and wanting to do great things for my country the way they did."

  • On this day in sport: Brathwaite leaves Stokes shattered, Popovich's sharp exit, Messi milestone On this day in sport: Brathwaite leaves Stokes shattered, Popovich's sharp exit, Messi milestone

    Ben Stokes must have endured nightmares over this day four years ago, when Carlos Brathwaite smashed West Indies to T20 World Cup glory in such dramatic fashion.

    Gregg Popovich also has bad memories of April 3, having been ejected only 63 seconds into the San Antonio Spurs' NBA clash with the Denver Nuggets last year.

    Lionel Messi scored two penalties when Barcelona beat Milan to reach the Champions League semi-finals on this day back in 2012.

    We take a look back at April 3 in sporting history.

     

    2016 - 'Remember the name' - Brathwaite goes berserk

    Stokes has had plenty to celebrate in the past year, but the England all-rounder endured a horror show at Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

    Windies all-rounder Brathwaite was the star of the show, blasting Stokes for four sixes off the first four balls of the final over to ensure his side became the first to win two World T20 titles.

    Commentator and former West Indies bowler Ian Bishop belted out "remember the name" when Brathwaite sealed a stunning victory, having needed 19 off the final over.

    While Stokes has gone on to better things, he will certainly not have forgotten the name of Brathwaite. 

     

    2019 - Off you pop

    Some spectators may not have taken their seats when Spurs coach Popovich was given his marching orders 12 months ago.

    He took exception to a non-foul call and was issued a technical by official Mark Ayotte before being handed another by David Guthrie just over a minute after tip-off in an encounter with Denver.

    The Nuggets went on to win 113-85 three nights after Popovich was also ejected during a loss to the Sacramento Kings.

    2012 - Milestone for Messi as Milan crash out

    There have been many days when Messi achieved a milestone and his half-century of Champions League goals came eight years ago to the day.

    The Barcelona superstar made no mistake from the penalty spot twice as the Catalan giants beat Milan 3-1 to reach the last four.

    There were no goals in the first leg at San Siro, but Messi proved to the match-winner, with Andres Iniesta netting the third. Chelsea ended Barca's run at the semi-final stage, though, winning 3-2 on aggregate.

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